You know, I listen to your tales of Britain’s ongoing Euro-woes with a certain sense of wonder. Nothing in my own Antipodean experience compares to the kind of legal and bureaucratic subjugation that seems to have infected the UK from Bruxelles these days. No aspect of life over there seems too small to be the subject of “minute and irresponsible interference” from a group of faceless Eurocrats. When Britain ratified the treaty of Lisbon in 2008, I wonder if most of its citizens realised the extent to which their island nation was relinquishing its sovereignty.
Reading how one Brussels mandarin apparently spent a weekend on the Riviera gleefully dismembering the map of Britain in pursuit of some ill-defined European integration, one gets the strong whiff of a more sinister agenda at work.
The final straw for me came when I read this story proclaiming that British retailers would no longer be allowed by Brussels to sell eggs by the dozen! No, in Europe all food products must be sold by weight. In kilograms, s’il vous plait.
And the incredible thing for me is, Europe doesn’t really want Britain in its little club—except perhaps to eliminate it as a potential source of competition. A fundamentally different outlook on life, different languages, culture and historical development of institutions such as the law, government and church, its modern sense of communalism and above all, a horror of war and a determination to avoid it at any price, appear to set Europe apart from an historically independent Britain. For its part, millenia of antipathy and conflict leaves many Britons with an innate mistrust of all things European; to them, the “garlic breath of duplicity and cowardice” across la Manche represents a force better left to itself.
Now, a few months ago, in response to a similar topic being discussed on a DT JD thread, I posted the following (I’m quoting myself from memory):
Imagine for a moment that, as an alternative to the EU, Britain stood at the head of an organisation much larger than Europe? One that contained one-third of the world’s population, one-quarter of the world’s land area, mineral resources and Gross Domestic Product, all time zones and climate variations; one which, were it ever to become a formal trading bloc, would dwarf Europe and even the USA, and would rival East Asia for economic dominion?
Fantasy? Or a neglected and forgotten resource staring you in the face?
There are always alternatives.
I was referring, of course, to the Commonwealth of Nations, known prior to 1949 as the British Commonwealth of Nations and before that, the British Empire. My comment at the time received such strong and even emotional responses, particularly from British posters, that I thought I would set down my thoughts on the subject in a little more detail.
The British Empire, following three centuries of expansion, reached its zenith in the first decade of the twentieth century. Like the great empires which preceded it throughout history, centrifugal force, the desire of national autonomy and expansionist policies of rival imperial powers at the periphery were the driving forces in its ultimate decline. Some mark the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 as the beginning of the end. I prefer 1910, the year the gross domestic product of the United States surpassed that of Britain, supplanting it as the world’s largest economy. Subsequent twentieth century historical milestones across the world: the fall of Singapore, the independence movement in the subcontinent, the abdication of authority to the UN in the British Palestinian Mandate and, most significantly, the humiliation in the Suez, signalled to the world that Britain was no longer in a position to directly sustain and control a global empire.
In contrast to a centrally ruled empire, the modern Commonwealth of Nations is a free association of 54 member nations, generally former dominions or colonies of the British Empire. The British monarch is recognised as the titular head of the Commonwealth, even by those member nations, such as India, which are republics. The purpose of the Commonwealth is set out in the 1971 Singapore Declaration. Article 6 of this document probably best explains to you the basis of my own interest:
We believe in the liberty of the individual, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief, and in their inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which they live. We therefore strive to promote in each of our countries those representative institutions and guarantees for personal freedom under the law that are our common heritage.
One can imagine your average Eurocrat recoiling in horror from such ringing words, in the much same way his continental fellowman Count Dracula might at the sight of a garlic-necklaced peasant, wooden stake in one hand and an oversize carpenter’s mallet in the other .
I would argue that the Commonwealth is a far more natural grouping, not merely for Britain but all the English-speaking peoples of the world (I leave Ireland and the USA to one side for the moment) than an amalgam such as the EU, united as it is primarily by geographic happenstance. Given that a nation’s peace and prosperity are contingent on individual liberty and universal acceptance of the rule of law as enshrined in the Singapore Declaration, it is my belief that a non-exclusive Commonwealth free-trade zone should be a policy objective of every Commonwealth government, starting with the United Kingdom and Australia.
Currently however, this is far from the case. In the United Kingdom, the three major parties pay little more than vestigial or pro forma attention to the Commonwealth. The Conservatives might have been expected to emphasise the relationship, and at one time they certainly did; but no longer. Their foreign policy statement vaguely refers to the deepening of alliances beyond Europe and North America, but does not mention the Commonwealth at all; Labour’s foreign policy mentions it only once, burying the relationship among their great international institutions and alliances – the European Union, NATO, the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the G8 and G20. The Liberal Democrats appear to regard the Commonwealth as a positive embarrassment; their policy document, Britain In The World, mentions the Commonwealth not at all, but pays homage to our partners in the United Nations, the European Union, NATO and the WTO. In that order.
The truculant BNP appears to support the idea of the Commonwealth—as long as it’s white:
In place of the EU, a BNP government will aim towards greater national self-sufficiency, and work to restore Britain’s family and trading ties with Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and to trade with the rest of the world as it suits us.
The UKIP alone proclaims, in the Foreign Affairs section of its Policy Statement:
UKIP would set up a Commonwealth Free Trade Area (CFTA). Given the extraordinary economic power of the Commonwealth, such a bloc would be a global economic sensation. It could also interlock with other trade blocs to enhance global trade and prosperity. UKIP would retain friendly and profitable trade relationships with EU countries after withdrawal. UKIP would sign a UK-EU Free Trade deal, similar to the free trade deals the EU has with over 50 other non-EU countries but as its largest trading partner.
It was when I read these words that I agreed to join our own RealityReturns’ UKIP foreign supporters group on the DT blog.
In Australia, the Commonwealth policies of the major political parties tell the same dismal story. To canvass them all here would become tedious, but you can read for yourselves the manifest disinterest of the Labor, Liberal, National and Greens parties via the preceding links.
A shared language, a system of parliamentary democracy and Common Law give the Commonwealth several advantages over groups like the United Nations (which was memorably dismissed by Yes Minister’s Sir Humphrey Appleby as “merely the accepted forum for the expression of international hatred”). The Commonwealth can, and does, exert real moral pressure on misbehaving member states whose governments fail to uphold its declared principles. Suspension or even expulsion from Commonwealth membership carries with it a humiliation which few defaulting despots have proved willing to bear without remorse. The international sporting boycott of South Africa, conceived and organised from within the Commonwealth nations, was a greater—and more painful—condemnation of that country’s policy of institutional apartheid, than any sanctions of nations.
The importance of cultural and sporting bonds can never be underestimated. Given that virtually every sport invented in Britain is followed with a quasi-religious fervour throughout the Commonwealth, communication at the personal, business and government levels always starts with a certain amount of common ground and connection with ordinary people. Throw a group of boys from Pakistan, Australia, Zimbabwe and Jamaica together in a park, and within five minutes—guaranteed—they will have organised a cricket match along Test lines.
I’ve even heard it expressed by some Americans that they would be interested in participating in a Commonwealth economic grouping, were it ever to occur. Expat Briton David Hawkins (aka Captain Sherlock) made this point in the thread I mentioned earlier. While a lot of knotty points would need to be ironed out (the fundamental dichotomy between Britain’s 1701 Act of Settlement and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution springs to mind) the participation of the United States would make the Commonwealth a force that would dwarf even China. Given the fundamentally anti-British attitude of the current U.S. administration, it seems a pretty distant prospect at best.
Some Britons would like to see a Commonwealth free-trade zone for what I believe to be the wrong reasons. Merrie-olde-England romanticists hankering for a return to Rule Brittania should realise that the UK would not be the leader of any such economic grouping; though it has the largest GDP of any Commonwealth nation, Canada, India and Australia are not far behind, and Britain’s status, even granted it relinquished EU membership, is likely to be one of primus inter pares. In the longer term, it seems certain that India, with over half the entire population of the Commonwealth, will eventually become the dominant force.
In a world largely motivated by personal selfishness, envy, collectivism and state control of the individual, The Commonwealth of Nations stands as a beacon of light and liberty, a force for good and, should it ever choose to embrace its economic potential, a vehicle for prosperity for much of the world where it is so desperately needed. The United Kingdom gave birth to the Commonwealth; in the modern age, it should not lightly abandon its family—particularly not at the behest of a European monolith that has anything but Britain’s best interests at heart.